Friday, 30 April 2010

List Day: 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn't Want to Be a Writer

Let's count this down, shall we?

5. Insomnia 
 I put this low on the list because I'm sure many writers escape it. Sadly, if you're like me and you can't sleep for all the ideas, conversations, anxieties and 'will that agent or editor like the book?' questions running through your head, this is a nuisance. My dears, start investing in some kind of sleep-maker. 

4. Your non-writer friends think you're insane

and can you blame them? Let's see: if someone you knew suddenly jerked their heads up during lunch, muttered frantically under their breath, and cried 'yes! I get it now!' at top volume, would you want to commit them? When they run off in the middle of a concert because 'they've just got the best idea', do you feel indulgent and tolerant, or do you want to clout them on the head? Oh, yes. Writers = crazy, in the eyes of the non-writer friends and family who have to put up with these foibles, eccentricities, and frequent periods of immense anti-socialness. 

3. It's a lifestyle, not just a job
Some people do the 9-to-5. Most of those people may love their jobs. Others may hate it. Some may see it as a way to pay bills until they can do what they really love. Either way, many, many, many of them get to come home at the end of the day, shake off their work, and unwind. Writers carry their work around everywhere. It's in our heads. We can't escape it. 

2. Rejection
If you've been reading this blog at least a couple days, you'll know I got a rejection the day before yesterday. Believe me, I'm not bitter. If I was, I wouldn't still be trying and trust me, I'm still trying. But rejection stings nevertheless. It's a pain in the behind to work very hard on a project, fall madly in love with it, nervously put it out there, and then be told it's not good enough. Ouch. And unlike the majority (but not all) of jobs/hobbies, writing comes with an awful lot of rejection. Frequently.  

1. Two words: Crow's. Feet.

It begs the question, doesn't it? Why do it? Well, I guess it boils down to this: if, in spite of all those things, you still want to write and, moreover, you still have to write, then, readers, you are a writer.

Aw, all Grown Up

Today is my little brother's birthday. Not just any birthday, either. Today, Sid turns eighteen, which is, quite frankly, worrying. Not simply because it means I'm pretty darn old too, but because I can't help but feel ridiculously nostalgic.

So, as I'm about four thousand miles from my brother and family, and haven't seen them in about seven months, I feel like I can indulge myself today.

This was Sid many years ago:

This is Sid now [it's his yearbook picture, scanned in and emailed to me by my mother]: 

Fortunately for my general well-being, my brother doesn't read my blog. At least, I don't think so. Because I fear that if he knew I'd put, *gasp*, a photo up of his lickle self, he would kill me. Bludgeon me, possibly.

Happy birthday, anyway! 

PS. Don't forget to vote at the poll in the sidebar, if you haven't already. It stays open until 11 pm (GMT) on Thursday, May 6th.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Building a world from scratch

Yesterday, I had an email back from the agent who had been considering the full manuscript of ECHOES. It was a rejection (and yes, I'm fairly gutted, but also determined to keep trying), but as far as rejections go, it was an encouraging one. The agent made an excellent point: he told me he couldn't invest himself wholly in the story because he found himself asking too many questions about my echoes and the world they exist in.

This got me thinking about world-building, and how important it really is. ECHOES is urban fantasy, which means I haven't created a world from scratch, I've simply re-created our world to incorporate echoes, Weavers and everything associated with them. Nevertheless, I've created a concept from scratch, and so, it must be fleshed out.

As it happens, I know the world I've created. I know almost everything there is to know about echoes, Weavers, the process, the materials, the tricks, the hunters, etc, etc. But, obviously, most of this information won't make it into the text. It never will. Some information, if you're writing a series, will only be revealed later.

But as my rejection shows, balance is key. Yes, I have questions that will only be answered in later books. Yes, some information I'll never actually use. But at the same time, there's a lot I haven't explored in the text that I should have. The agent in question pointed out a few questions that, while the answers seemed obvious to me, obviously weren't addressed skilfully enough in the actual novel. 

I think that's the ultimate struggle for a writer. Because we know our stories so well, we tend to leave out information that might not seem necessary because it seems to obvious to us. And yet it's information the reader needs filled in.

If a reader can't believe completely, wholly in your world, the book won't work. At least, in my opinion and, based on what I've just learned.

Backdrop is essential, but again, it's about balance. You don't want to bombard and bore your readers with unnecessary details. I think Jacqueline Carey does this beautifully in her books set in the fictional Terre d'Ange. I've only read the first Kushiel trilogy (which I love), but I have no doubt this holds true for all of her novels. A skewed, fantastical version of France and Europe, this world feels completely real to the reader because questions about it are answered. Slowly, skilfully, and without any unnecessary details that you might not give a toss about. 

If you're struggling with providing a solid backdrop for your fictional or recreated world that doesn't bog the reader down, I reckon it's a great idea to look carefully at your favourite book that creates or recreates a world. Try and pinpoint exactly how that writer provides backdrop, world-detail and information effectively.

So, for example, how does Jacqueline Carey flesh out her world for us? Briefly, I think she:

1. Tells stories within the story. Instead of saying, 'right, look, so Elua came to Terre d'Ange and loved it, because it was the first place the people welcomed him', she weaves the history into a beautiful story, detailing Elua's struggles, and conflicts, before reaching the resolution. This gives the reader plenty of character detail, background information and also keeps us interested through the device of storytelling.

2. Gives us things we can relate to. By using familiar words, even if used in a different context, she makes us aware of exactly what she means. For instance, it's unnecessary for her to delve deeply into exactly how 'ancient Tiberium' is the equivalent of the Roman Empire. The very name 'Tiberium' puts us in mind of it. Similarly, naming the Skaldi 'Gunter' and 'Hedwig' makes it fairly clear that they are loosely based on Germany. 

This is a key instance of balance, where the author gives us information, but allows us to use our own knowledge to supply the analogy. This is where you trust your reader to know that 'Gunter' is a generally German name, for example. But the balance here is artful because, ultimately, even if the reader doesn't know this, it doesn't in any way hamper their understanding of the story.

I think this is where I failed in my balance; I expect readers to rapidly understand more than they possibly could of my fictional world, and when they don't, it does bring up too many questions.

So this is my opinion of how world-building can or should work, and do feel free to disagree with me or to add anything you think I've missed out. Do you create worlds? How do you go about it and how do you find that 'balance'?

With that, I'll leave you to it, and go off to a) wonder if other agents considering ECHOES will feel differently, and b) ponder how I'm going to revise it.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

You decide...

I've decided to do a poll! I thought that, as far more people seem to be reading my blog than I expected or realized, I'd thank all of you for being so wonderful and supportive by giving you a chance to pick a post. What would you most like me to write a post about?

  • More about how I write and/or edit a novel?
  • Would you like me to post an extract from one of my books?
  • A post about Ye Wilde University Life?
  • A conversation with my characters? (Those have been very popular so far, apparently)
  • Something about books or movies/TV?
  • A childhood anecdote involving an elephant and a white jeep?
  • OR a post about how I name my characters?

The poll is in the sidebar, just to the right, and will be open to votes for a week. You can only vote for one option but, if you're torn, there are always tricky ways of getting around it if you're technologically clever. (I'm not.)

Now, this might turn out to be a pointless exercise, or it might be lots of fun, so please make it fun and vote! 

If, for some reason, you really want a post that's not one of the options, feel free to say so in the comments here or anywhere else and I'll try my best to be inspired! I also promise that although I'll blog about the winning option at the end of next week (Friday the 7th, that is), I will post other popular options later on in the next weeks.

Pet Peeves

Yesterday, Steve guest-blogged about the things that irk him on the road, so I thought I'd follow on from that fun little rant and mention a few of my pet peeves. Mine won't be nearly as specific as Steve's, but there's a good chance I might get a tad worked up.

  • Text-speak. Oh, flipping heck, this drives me up the wall. I literally feel like pulling my nails out. Maybe it's the word-lover in me, the chronic writer that feels a little bit sick when faced with an enormous text message that goes something like 'Hey u ok? Gng 2 da mvie 2nite? Thnk it cud b gud, rite?' Oh, my eyes. My eyes.
  • Waiting. Such a silly pet peeve, but I really can't stand it. I'm one of those people who wails because someone's keeping a surprise from her; I get royally ticked off when people are more than ten minutes late, and Patience is one of those beautiful, airy words that always floats a few miles out of my reach.
  • 'You're' instead of 'your' or vice versa. Please, please don't.
  • Unforeseeable events that completely ruin things. I'm sure everyone hates these. Case in point: the unpronounceable volcano in Iceland. Now, I'll admit I wasn't personally affected by this. This time. But as someone who flies between England and India at least twice a year, I kept thinking about all the people who were stranded at an airport or in a random country, felt appallingly sorry for them, and also felt immensely relieved that I'd dodged that bullet this time. *frantically knocks on wood*
  • Airports. You'd hate them too, if you'd once had to spend twenty-six hours in a freezing-cold airport, wedged into the most uncomfortable chair in the world. And, because you were going to a hot country, you had nothing warm enough to wear. And oh, there was a cockroach. [No, I won't mention which airport this was, because it's now gone out of use and there's a shiny and perfectly nice new one in that city instead.]
  • Animals dressed in clothes. Sorry. I think this is weird. I wouldn't put my dog, cat or rabbit into dresses, waistcoats or scarves. I make an exception for monkeys here. Monkeys with hats and little coats are cute. They're cuter without the clothes, but still, cute.

And as a final note, I can forgive/live with all of the above. I'm not that grumpy.

Now I'd love to hear yours. Pet peeves? Weird stuff that really irritates you? Do you happen to like any of my peeves?

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Dear Readers, I am a Published Writer... last.

Of sorts. I was recently hired to write articles for hilarious and often scathing entertainment blog Spiteful Critic. Where, I might add, I had my first experience with a proper editor who sent me comments on my article's second draft and politely demanded I make it better. Just as well he did, too, because it is by and large better now, and it's up on the site.


So, does Disney fudge a few tales?

I hope you enjoy it, if you have a chance to look at it, and do let me know what you think in the comments! 

Guest post from Steve: Grind my Gears

Hey all, its been a while…

Just read this article on Which got me thinking about the things I hate that happen on the road. Obviously we all hate roadworks, speed cameras, etc. So my rant will be based on people, and what they do when let loose behind (or near) a steering wheel.

Actually, this is a complete lie. I rarely think about these things. I just shout them whilst in my car with my very loud music on. But this isn’t entirely relevant to this discussion, except for removing any doubt that I’m at least a little bit insane.

So, in no particular order, here’s my list of driving related things that annoy me:

*People who have their lights on at the wrong time

Why do people have their headlights on in the middle of a bright day? Or when it gets slightly dark? If you need help seeing ahead of you when it’s light, you shouldn’t be on the road. And if you’ve got your lights on so other people can see you, then you must think everyone else is too blind to be on the road, in which case, you would be infinitely safer off the road! See the theme here?

*People who undertake to avoid a queue

For those of you not based in the UK, undertaking is illegal here. Sometimes, when you’re faced with the infamous “middle lane hog”, it’s a fair tactic. Or if someone is driving at 60 in the fast lane for no apparent reason, it’s a necessity.

When it annoys the hell out of me is when there is obviously a queue being formed in the fast lane to get past a slow moving vehicle, and someone joins the back of queue for about three nanoseconds before racing down the inside to cut someone up further ahead in the queue.

I fear I will have to resort to metaphor here: Imagine queuing in a supermarket, with three people in front of you. You decide it’s a bit boring, so climb on the counter, push someone backwards so there’s a space to fit back in, and hop to the front of the queue. Would you do this? No. So don’t do it on the road.

*Driving instructors who take their charges through the busiest parts of town in rush hour

Why?! The day is very long. Rush hour lasts for, well, an hour. I guess. Why would you do this to a learner? As if they don’t have enough pressure!

And, more selfishly, as if there isn’t quite enough traffic on the road already, you feel you need to add to it?

*People who tailgate 

You may feel this is very hypocritical of me. You are correct. Sorry. But when I’m driving at a perfectly acceptable speed, is it necessary for people to drive six inches behind, with lights flashing and horn going? No. Is it going to make me slow down to inconvenience them as much as possible? Yes. Be warned.

*People who brake ridiculously suddenly

You may have noticed a theme running through here. I get concerned about little things that aren’t dangerous, just annoying and generally impolite. But this one is different.

You occasionally have the misfortune of driving directly behind some nutcase who feels that their brake pedal has two settings: Full and Off. No middle-ground for them! Just grinding to a halt and hoping that everyone else reacts like a tennis player facing Andy Roddick’s serve. These people are under some kind of illusion that we can magically see through their eyes, into their brain, and know exactly when they are going to brake, and thus enable us to synchronize perfectly. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Its dangerous, not to mention really expensive on tyres, petrol and brake pads.

Pure conjecture, but I bet a large majority of shunts on motorways are caused by these people.

And that’s it. One last note, if these things don’t annoy you, you’re probably doing them yourself. Thanks.

Insanity? Oh, why not?

Echo, intrepid protagonist and narrator of ECHOES

Me [jerks head up and chokes on drink]

Echo [indignant]
Who else would it be? I'm the only one who persistently offers you inspiration, you know. Even when you don't want it.
But I wasn't expecting you! I was waiting to hear from the protagonists of the other book!

Well, I thought I'd drop by instead. They're awfully lazy. Now, I'd really, really like to know- is [glances around and lowers her voice] you know, That Character, dead or not?

I'm not telling you.

Will you tell me if I'm going to be grievously injured again anytime soon?


Well, can I at least be spared a scar this time?


Just so I understand, is that 'no, I won't be spared a scar and therefore will be given yet another one', or 'no, you won't tell me whether or not I'll be spared a scar'?


Okay, okay. I'll be off, then. [Smiles] Fancy having coffee tomorrow? I really, really want to know what you've got planned for me in the next book, because, obviously, I'm going to thwart you at every turn and do what I think is right.

Me [resigned]
Of course you are. Tomorrow at seven, then? 

Monday, 26 April 2010

Writerly Updates

I haven't yet heard back from either of the agents who are reading ECHOES at present (one partial, one full), so there are no updates on the publishing/not-being-published front yet. However, I do have a significant update re. CLOCKWORK.

Point of view.

I started writing it in first, but it's suddenly struck me that it might do better to be in third person instead. This is obviously a pain in the rewriting sense, but fortunately I haven't written much of it yet. This may seem like a small change to be making to some, but it's actually quite important. I often write in first person, but I have written in third before, and there are advantages and disadvantages to both. In writing ECHOES, first person put me in my protagonist's head, and the reader spends their time there too. And I think that works. I think a lot of the book's strength (in my biased opinion) is in Echo's voice, thoughts and the way her character and feelings are so clear right through.

With CLOCKWORK, with a lot of secrets at work and a prickly and ruthless yet fiercely loyal heroine, I think the third person will work better. I need other characters to see my heroine, to have the reader see her through their eyes. I need to get into my male protagonist's head. And, with a lot of the book relying on humour, I think that works better when there are multiple perspectives. It's an oddly powerful feeling.

Let's see how it goes.

How do other people feel about this? What's your preferred point of view, to read or to write? 

Sunday, 25 April 2010


If you're in the mood for a quick laugh as well as in the spirit to admire a bit of cleverness, have a look at the following song: 'F.E.A.R' by Ian Brown. Every line of the song has four words in it, and each of those words follows the pattern of beginning with F, then E, then A, then R. For example: "(F)orget (e)verything (a)nd (r)emember..."

What's amazing is, it makes sense.

It made me laugh and it also made me wonder: could I pull such a feat off? Probably not, but let's all have a try, shall we? Pick a word, and write four lines of a song that make sense, each line of which must follow the above pattern. Post it into the comments! I'd love to see somebody else try this and probably do better than I will.

My attempt: L.O.V.E (yep, I'm a cheesy sap, why not?)

Lucky Oliver volleyed everything,
Losers out, victory everywhere,
Lucky Oliver's victims eschewed
Lovely outraged vindictive [grr, no words come to mind here]...

So that was tripe, wasn't it? But it was the best I could do. Clearly, cleverness with words is not my thing. A worrying omen, for a writer...  Still. I do enjoy entertaining myself with things like this.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Woo, Books!

One of my favourite things to do on a lazy day is to read a really good book. And when I'm having trouble sleeping, reading a new book makes me feel better. Takes my mind off that dreadful 'oh, dear, it's been another hour and I'm still not asleep' frustration. So I thought I'd run through a few of the books I've discovered, read and liked in the last few weeks.

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher

I finished this one last night, because I was struggling to sleep (as usual) and Steve had nodded off (as usual). This was a great book. It's about a vast, living prison and the world outside it. I think it's supposed to be a children's book, but I'd be amazed if most adults didn't love it too. It's fast-paced, and the characters are memorable and complex. The only small reservation I had was that, given the complicated structure of the prison, I found it very hard to picture certain places in spite of Fisher's descriptions. Definitely worth picking up, though. I'm determined to get the sequel already.

The Strangely Beautiful Tale of Miss Percy Parker, by Leanna Renee Hieber

I love the Gothic, I love ghosts, and I love Victorian settings, so this one hooked me on concept alone. It combines elements of ghost-hunting with humour, horror and bits of the boarding school genre. It gripped me all the way through, and I loved the way the relationship between the hero Alexi and the heroine Percy developed. Be prepared to feel extremely frustrated towards the end: it's one of those situations where you and the hero know the right answer, but everyone is insisting just the opposite and you want to strangle them. This was lots of fun!

The Secret Scripture, by Sebastian Barry

This lost the Man Booker to The White Tiger, which I really like, but I also liked this. It starts off a little slow, and you may be tempted to put it down. But I was determined to find out the ultimate 'secret', and so I persevered, and I'm glad. There's some really beautiful writing here, as well as a really poignant, tragic story (and I'm a sucker for poignant, tragic stories. You'd have to be, to love Wuthering Heights.)

Anyone read these? What did you think of them? Any recommendations to make of your own?

Friday, 23 April 2010

Does love ever die?

To follow on from two recent posts, I thought I'd talk about new music that's helped me get a better handle on the tone and mood of my works-in-progress. 

I'm obsessed with musicals. I'm not kidding about this, some might argue it's a clinical, fundamental kind of obsession. My mother is hugely musical, and her love of musicals crept into the womb and into my childhood. While I can't sing a note, I'm more than happy to run through entire musicals anyway. My favourite is Jesus Christ Superstar, followed closely by Les Miserables and The Phantom of the Opera, both tied in second place. Wicked comes in at third, missing the cut to second place only because I like fewer actual songs. I think I know every word of Jesus Christ Superstar, and most from Les Mis and Phantom. I know I've certainly driven poor Steve mad because I've often started singing a musical from beginning to end, and refused to stop.

Which makes it rather astonishing that it was only about a week ago when, courtesy of my mother of course, I found out about Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. I downloaded the album yesterday, started listening to it, and bam! Musical inspiration.

It was rather funny, actually. Because all those scenes that had been writing themselves in my head? Well, when I started listening to 'Beneath a Moonless Sky', I sort of jerked upright and thought but this is just what I was thinking about earlier, about [insert my main characters' names here].

Other recent musical inspiration: 'Another Heart Calls' by the All-American Rejects, 'All The Right Moves' by One Republic and the music from the Doctor Who episode 'End of Time' (the bit where the Master saves the Doctor. Sorry if I just spoiled that for you.)

Any suggestions? What do you listen to when you need inspiration?

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Ho, ho, self-control

I began trying to get to sleep at about 3 AM last night, but it must have been closer to 5 when I finally did. And this afternoon, I woke up at about 1 PM, but only got out of bed at half past 2. 

The reason I tell you this is not because I expect those facts to be particularly scintillating, or even because I fancy having another whinge about my insomnia. It's because I thought I'd mention exactly what was going on in those intervals between bed/sleep and waking/getting up.

I was thinking about a book. More precisely, I was thinking about the sequel to ECHOES. I can't begin to describe how exciting it was to lie there and have characters talking to each other in my head; to have scenarios form themselves; to be chilled by a frightening moment; to get teary at a particularly sad one; to have scenes write themselves out (always far, far better than when it actually gets to paper/screen). It's been so long since I've had my characters and scenes clutter my head up so vividly, and it made me long to get up and start writing the book.

Only, I've told myself I won't. Not yet. Not until I've written a first draft of CLOCKWORK at least. This is going to take enormous amounts of self-control and willpower, but I have to do it, because I can't get caught up in an ECHOES-sequel just yet. 

The thing is, if ECHOES doesn't get anywhere, I need to have something to start working on/pitching next. At some point, you move on to the next book, and keep the others in the back of your mind. It's really the only thing that makes rejection easier to take, and it's a lot of fun to get wrapped up in another adventure; it makes letting go of the first smoother, easier.

Well, if the only thing I have waiting is a sequel to the novel that's getting nowhere right now... that's not exactly going to help. So. I must wait. I've got to crack the hard nut that is CLOCKWORK, and wade deeper into it. 

But, happily, there's nothing stopping me from letting ECHOES' cast and crew run rampant in my head...

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

"It is only too true that a lot of artists are mentally ill"

So said Vincent Van Gogh, apparently. And I think we can safely assume that he was right about that one, especially where he was concerned. But, were we to need any further proof, here we have it. This is how I spent the last half hour.

Me [having spent 20 minutes gazing at the screen without typing a single word]: You're kidding me, right? Right? You spend all night jabbering away in my ear, and now you've got nothing to say?

As-yet-nameless Female Protagonist: Hmm? What's that? [Yawns] Oh, do go away. I am napping.

Me: Well, get up.


Me: OY!

Remy, the Male Protagonist: Oh, hello. Haven't seen you in days. You kind of left me standing at a window. My legs feel a bit achy, not to mention I'm going to be shot at any minute now, so I feel a position of less visibility would be wise.

Me [somewhat sulkily]: Sorry. Go sit down. No, wait, don't. The As-yet-nameless Female Protagonist is about to enter, so you need to look like you're expecting her.

Remy [very reasonably]: But I am expecting her. I just saw her through the window, remember?

Me: Stop making sense, Remy!

Remy: It's kind of hard to stop doing that when things stare you in the face. Like this bloody window. I'm going to move now, if that's all the same to you?

Me [sighs].

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

First Lines and Attention Spans

Sparked off by this great contest on the DGLM blog, I got to thinking about first lines of novels and our attention spans. Are we really so short of time and attention that if the first line doesn't grab us, we won't read the book? I don't know. I think that, when browsing books at a store, I do glance at the first page and see if the voice wins me over. But ninety per cent of the time, I buy a book because it sounds good, and I'll overlook a less-than-shining first page or line. 

And really, the very fact that I can't think of my favourite 'first lines' from books seems to suggest I don't pay much attention to them. I know the old classics, of course, like A Tale of Two Cities or Pride and Prejudice, but I wouldn't list these lines among my personal favourites.

As a writer, I think I'm fairly bad at first lines. So, in this post, I'm going to put down a few first lines I've just thought of. Intriguing ones, hopefully. I've already posted and tweeted the first one elsewhere, and it's what kicked this thought process off. But here you go. These are the first lines I'd like to start a novel with. Maybe one day.

I sat down to tea with Death, Desire and Rage.

I thanked goodness the week was over: it had started with killing my grandmother and had ended with a valet's broken nose. [This, incidentally, is a short version of the first paragraph of CLOCKWORK, which, by the way, I haven't yet written any more of yet.]

He left as abruptly as he'd arrived.

Oh, dear. 

I think I like the first one best. 

So, bombard me. What are your favourite first lines? If you write, do tell me about the first lines you've used. It's a fun thing to think about.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Setting the Scene... to music

I'm not the first writer to confess that music helps me write, nor will I be the last. I'll admit that there are times when I want/need nothing more than silence to be able to concentrate on a particularly difficult scene. More often than not, however, a particular song or piece of music will do wonders in helping me set the tone and mood of a scene. And tone and mood is so important to me... I can't write if either feels flat.

For instance, while writing ECHOES, there's a certain 'death scene' towards the end of the novel (no, I will not be mentioning who, what, when or how). And listening to Snow Patrol's 'Run' was absolutely perfect. Admittedly, writing the scene made me tear up anyway, but the song just amplified the mood and helped me construct the words better. I think. 

Then there are the faster, quicker-paced scenes, and listening to Michael Jackson's 'Smooth Criminal' made a particular one flow so much better than if I had written it to silence, or to any other kind of music. 

Of course, ninety per cent of the time, instrumental music works so much better for me than songs with lyrics, just because the lyrics in the latter can distract me from what I'm actually writing about, and the next thing I know, I've branched off from a poignant, tender love scene to something vaguely drug-related. Uh-huh. What a mess. I know. On the instrumental front, I love Immediate Music, Hans Zimmer pieces, Audiomachine... yikes, this list could go on.

So, for anyone who might be curious today, here's some of the music I listened to while writing ECHOES. (Hopefully, one day, people might get to read the book and it might then be clearer where each song fits in. Until then, or if that never happens, think of this as a glimpse into what went on behind the scenes, while the book unfolded.)

1.        Cinema Bizarre – Forever or Never
2.       Michael Jackson – Beat It
3.       Iron Maiden – Fear of the Dark
4.      Coldplay – Fix You
5.       AFI – This Time Imperfect
6.      Missy Higgins – Where I Stood
7.       Apocalypta – I Don’t Care
8.      Michael Jackson – Smooth Criminal
9.      Snow Patrol – Set the Fire to the Third Bar
10.    Madonna – This Used to Be My Playground
11.     Damien Rice – 9 Crimes
12.    Globus – Orchard of Mines
13.    Declan Flynn – Ease My Pain
14.    Evanescence – Before the Dawn
15.    Audiomachine – House of Cards (No Choir)
16.    Paramore – We Are Broken
17.    Red – Start Again
18.    Snow Patrol – Run
19.    Within Temptation – Angels
20.   Queen – Who Wants to Live Forever

On a further music note, I've just gotten obsessed with Simian Mobile Disco's 'Audacity of Huge'. Thanks for that, Steve. 

Sunday, 18 April 2010

At-Home Haircuts, what a treat

So, about an hour of my weekend was spent cutting Steve's hair. It had gotten a bit long (read: it looked like a mushroom) and he begged, pleaded, demanded I do something about it. So I did.

I chopped, hacked, and generally did what I felt like. I had enough spare hair in my hands for an excellent toupe. I left him with a tiny bald spot at the back (easily hidden because his hair tends to be rakishly messy all the time), and no hair in front of his ears. You know, the really short sideburn bit boys have next to their ears? Yep. I kind of removed that. I didn't mean to. Hopefully, it will grow back speedily.

I write books better than I cut hair. I think. 

I just want people to know that.

Tomorrow, I will be cutting nobody's hair. But I will, hopefully, be handing in my dissertation and washing my hands of it forever. And I will, hopefully, be immersing myself in writing more of CLOCKWORK. It's been so lonely and neglected this week.

My Favourite Superhero: Bruce Wayne

a.k.a Batman. Obviously.

While I might not be wildly obsessed with them, and I couldn't quote you every single line and character detail, I've always loved superheroes. Lots of people do. I like watching Spiderman go spinning around skyscrapers (oooh, alliteration) and I like it when a bullet crumples upon meeting Superman's eye. It makes me feel cool by osmosis. I think 'yes, I shall now crawl up this tall, sheer building. I too shall perch in a dramatic, gothic and totally cool way upon the edge of a cathedral'. Fortunately, I also know not to do these things, but that doesn't kill the voyeuristic thrill that shoots through me when I watch these heroes at work. I love the X-Men. And lest anyone think that I only go for the male heroes, let me say that Storm was always the X-Person I liked best. She was so tough, and clever, and mysterious, and she could fly. Who doesn't want to do that?

But my favourite superhero, always, was Batman. Being a young'un, my recollections of the comics and the TV series with the sound effects in clouds are quite dim, so when I think of Batman, I really think of Val Kilmer's portrayal, George Clooney's, and Christian Bale's. Still, Batman. My favourite. 

Why? Well, really, because he wasn't quite so 'super'. 

Batman is one of the few superheroes who doesn't actually have any special powers. He's human, like me. Like you (unless, of course, you aren't, in which case, tell me more). To me, Batman was always, essentially, Bruce Wayne. He was a man who had cool gadgets, a cool car, an outstandingly cool butler (ah, Alfred) and a slightly uncool sidekick, and this somehow made him more exciting to me. He was human. He could be real.

In a way, Batman was, to me, the descendant of Robin Hood, another favourite of mine. A mysterious man, publicly denounced, generally feared, did things the unconventional way, flawed, good.

I think the 'flawed' part matters most. For me, that's the character that works. The hero who fails. Who falls. Who makes mistakes and does stupid things and sometimes you want to hit him on the head. Because that's so much more easily identifiable to me (who makes mistakes and does stupid things) than a golden hero who never puts a foot wrong, and even when he does make mistakes, everything turns out okay because, well, he's the hero. One of the most moving cinematic scenes I ever watched was the end of The Dark Knight, when-


-Bruce nobly shoulders Harvey's crimes and flees the dogs and the police, because everyone thinks he's a murderer. A lot of that came down to the mistakes Bruce/Batman made, in both incarnations. Yet he takes what he has to, because he's good. He pays the price.

These are the characters I love to read about, or watch. These are the ones I try to write. The ones who make mistakes, and give up, but who rise in the end and face what they have to. I don't know if I do this justice in my writing, but I do believe these are the characters that linger in your head after the book's been read and the film is over. They're the ones I think people love the most. 

That's my set of musings on character for today. Any thoughts? Who are your favourite superheroes/heroines and characters?

Friday, 16 April 2010

List Day: Classics

Everyone who isn't in England appears to be talking about spring fever and how they long to be outdoors. My mother, in Bangalore, tells me frequently how hot it is, and wishes she could exchange climates with me. Ha!

Well, with 'spring' defined in England by the presence of sunlight but only about a degree's increase in temperature, spring fever is beyond me. But I do have weekend fever. Having packed boxes for yet another few hours today, I am achy and long for a nice, fun weekend in which dissertations, query letters and boxes do not weigh on my mind (or arms).

So, how about a nice, easy Friday post? Another list, short and sweet. 

This one is about classics, but in the loose definition of the word, so I don't necessarily mean novels that were written pre-1950. I mean texts/novels that are considered 'classic'. I thought that, although this may simply reveal the depth of my ignorance and philistine-ish nature, I'd compile a list of 'classic' novels that, for one reason or another, I never actually liked all that much.

  1. Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger (yeah, never quite got the fuss this causes.)
  2. Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence (my modernism tutor would kill me if he saw this.)
  3. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen (nope, sorry. Have never been able to enjoy reading Austen. Funnily enough, though, I like almost every television or film adaptation, especially the adaptation of Emma with Kate Beckinsale.)
  4. Anything else by Jane Austen
  5. 1984, George Orwell (for someone who likes dystopian fiction as much as I do, it's weird that this never grabbed me. Maybe it's optimistic dystopian fiction I like, where the bleakness doesn't overpower everything. That said, I do like Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale.)
  6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy, J.R.R. Tolkien (*hides face*. Yes. I write fantasy and I never quite enjoyed reading The Lord of the Rings. I know. Shoot me. Do. But there you have it. I don't actually enjoy the Tolkien-esque style of epic fantasy, with a couple of exceptions. I lean toward urban, urban-medieval and historical. But I'm sure you'll be delighted to hear I love the movie adaptions of the trilogy. Ah, Aragorn.)
Hmm, can't actually think of any others right now, but I'm sure they're there. However, before you write me off completely, here are a few 'classics' I do love:

Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
Dracula, Bram Stoker
The Shining, Stephen King
Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte

Try not to read too much into the gothic/horror trend that seems to be going on in that brief list above. While I love the gothic, I'm not very keen on books/films that are 'horror'. Needless blood, gore and nightmares are just too inevitable.

What about you? Any 'classics' you simply never liked all that much?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Literary Relationships

Having (vaguely) fixed my dreadful and erratic sleeping pattern (I fell asleep last night before 5 AM for the first time in two weeks), I was up and about during the day and spent three hours in the afternoon packing boxes as part of a part-time job. Feel a little bit achy now.

So it was only about half an hour ago that I finally managed to get onto the laptop and do my usual Internetting. While running through my usual list of agency, publishing and other random blogs and websites, I came across this post by agent Jessica Faust on the BookEnds blog. I thought it was an incredible post, especially how touched she is by a dedication in a client's book. It made me think about relationships in the literary world, real-life and fictional, and about how wonderful and memorable these can be. Obviously, there are the great agent-author relationships (and oh, how I long for one of these...) and there are author-editor relationships and author-character relationships. The latter are probably the most fraught and complicated.

But there are also character-character relationships, and in the spirit of that theme, I'd like to point many fingers at the compelling, funny, touching and all-round amazing friendship between Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. 

Right, seriously. Watson's devotion, loyalty and nagging must be celebrated. The man is not only patient, he's astonishing. Of course, while reading the stories, his exasperation, confusion and devotion regardless is obvious and funny. This relationship is the building block upon which other great fictional relationships have been based - notably the relationship between House and Wilson in House. I love House, not least for that relationship.

I think one of my favourite moments in the entire series (Holmes, that is, not House) is from 'The Three Garridebs'. Watson is shot in the course of catching a criminal, and Holmes's reaction, viewed through Watson's eyes, really reminds the reader that the good doctor's devoted friendship is not by any means one-sided: It was worth a wound, Watson/Conan Doyle writes, to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. A furious Holmes then informs the criminal that if he had killed Watson, Holmes would have killed him. Aw.

*feels a surge of nostalgia coming on, and glances at the massive Sherlock Holmes volume on the shelf* Erm, yes. So, where was I?

I really can't recommend the stories highly enough. But, for now, this post is my small tribute to one of my favourite fictional literary relationships of all time.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010


...from dinner at an Italian restaurant? Well. Lest anybody think the writerly, studenty life involves little but writing, studenting and general meandering about our gloriously sunny campus (yes, the sun is rare. I'm excited.), let me disabuse you of that notion. Tonight, I'm going out. Just for a meal in town, for a friend's birthday, but the unusual thing about this is: there will be about thirty other people at dinner too.

The last time I went out with more than a handful of friends, I was seventeen, it was lunch after my school graduation, and I entertained my entire class of sixty by trying desperately to fish a cherry out of the bottom of my friend Tarun's sweet lime soda. Believe me, I had no idea everyone had fallen silent and was watching me struggle. Such was my absorption in getting that cherry.

So it's been, what? Five years now since that outing? And here I am again, about to embark on a similar feat of large gatherings at a restaurant. The reason I mention this is because, when I find myself amongst so many people, most of whom I won't know in the slightest, I invariably get Ideas. I steal things off them. Someone might say something funny and in my head, I'll go ping! I'm going to use that line! Or I might see someone with an absolutely exceptional nose and I'll immediately want to use that nose on a lovely, charming new character.

It's an illness. I could swear it is. I don't know about other writers, but I personally find it very hard to bump into an unusual characteristic or witty banter or magnificent nose without thinking I want to use that. Books are always on my brain. Ideas. Those sneaky things.

How do you get your ideas? Can you hear your friends say something funny without wanting to tweak or use it in some way?

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Suitable blog fodder?

Have just had a couple more rejections, but an agent has requested the full manuscript of ECHOES. This means that, when I send it to him, I'll have one partial and one full out with agents. This is a promising tally, and I'm very excited! And also terrified. Can't quite shake the feeling that the book is just not good enough. But it's the best I can make it, so it's worth a shot, right?

So, being swamped with university work and a need now to format said full manuscript, I don't really have a scintillating blog post. Nevertheless, I thought I'd point readers to this article.

Ants that have evolved so that they don't need men. Wow.

Should we be taking lessons? Or does this 'world without sex' sound bleak?

Hopefully, that article provides some amusement. Not to mention knowledge. To quote from Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel's Dart, 'all knowledge is worth having'. I'm not sure what use I'm going to put knowing about all-female Amazonian ant hives to, but we'll just have to see...

Monday, 12 April 2010

Anatomy of a Night Out vs. Editing a Novel

It occurred to me this afternoon, for no reason whatsoever, that my 'getting ready' process for a night out is actually very similar to my process for editing a novel. So, I thought, why not write about it? To anyone to whom either of these processes is familiar, I hope it gives you a laugh, and to anyone to whom they aren't, I hope it's amusing and enlightening anyway.

Imagine your bedroom is your manuscript. Your wardrobe is each individual chapter, your clothes represent each scene element, and your dressing table is the prose you layer your plot, characters and setting with.

Step One: Clothes and Re-Drafting

Every time you choose a new outfit, or discard one skirt in favour of another, or choose to wear jeans instead of a dress, you're rewriting a scene. So when you choose your outfit, you're picking a chapter to work on. Then you decide you don't like the blue denim skirt, so why not try the black tulip one instead? What's really happening, of course, is the fact that you don't like that your two characters kiss in this scene, it doesn't feel natural. So you wear the black tulip skirt, and you heighten the tension in the scene, building up anticipation for the kiss that will come later. When you decide the dress isn't working and you have to wear jeans instead, you're tearing the scene apart. It simply wasn't working, so you're going to have your protagonist go to London in this chapter instead.

You might go through six or seven different outfits in one evening, before settling on one that feels right. Similarly, you might change a scene six or seven times before it works the way you want it to. You really have to be brutal to get the best results. (Sorry if this is difficult for male readers to identify with.) You wouldn't want to go out if your shoes were uncomfortable, would you? In much the same way, I find I can't rest easy if I know I've left a chapter less than I could have made it.

Repeat this process for every single night out, and every single scene, and every single chapter.

Step Two: Make Up and Prose 

This is where you make your face look prettier, and your manuscript read nicer.

You apply some sort of base. This can be moisturiser, toner or some kind of expensive make-up base if you're an 'expensive make-up base' kind of girl. Your base is your re-drafted manuscript, where every scene works and every chapter seems just right... except for the actual, technical writing of it.

Then comes the foundation, the bronzer/blusher, the lipstick, the eyeliner. These are all the things that enhance your features, highlight the best parts of your face. These are the things that enhance your manuscript, highlight the best parts of your characters and plot. But be warned: too much lipstick/lip gloss and you look like a clown, too much foundation and you start to look chalky, too much eyeliner and the first droplet of rain will destroy you. 

Keep the metaphors, similes and beautiful imagery to places where it works. Don't overdo any of it. Less is more. No one wants to go out with gloopy red lips and no one can wade through a manuscript bogged down with far too many gloopy red metaphors. If you're going to work with bold lips, keep eye makeup to a minimum and vice versa. I try to avoid using similes, metaphor and imagery in the same sentence. Too much.

Dot on a bit of concealer to hide the flaws, and leave behind a smooth finish. The natural look works best. There are elements of every story that a writer will look at and think oh, dear. For me, it's my action sequences. I hate writing action because I'm bad at it, I don't particularly enjoy it, and it never gets my pulse racing like great character scenes do. I'll bet every writer feels they have a weak spot, and ninety-nine per cent of the time, you have to use the weak bits too. Very few fantasy novels can work without an action sequence somewhere in the midst of it, and I write a lot of fantasy. So, what do I do? How do I hide the little flaws on my face, the bits of my manuscript I don't like?

Solution: you do the best you can. You dot on the concealer, gently, carefully. You camouflage your weak spots with what you feel are your strongest. If I have an action sequence, I sandwich it between character scenes I absolutely love, or bits of dialogue I can't wait to write. The strong will enhance the weak and, sometimes, you might discover that what you think you're bad at isn't so bad at all. [Steve insists my action scenes aren't as bad as I think they are. Maybe I'm good at camouflage?]

Step Three: Hair and the Final Polish

When you do your hair, you might have to work at it a few times to get it just right. Whether you're keeping it simple or going for an elaborate 'do, it needs a little bit of work. So does that final polish of the manuscript, the final details that make it sparkle. Does your title work? Have you got your chapters numbered correctly? Have you straightened your layers but forgotten to straighten that sneaky little fringe? Do your characters' eye colours stay consistent throughout the story?

This is what I do last. My hair, and the nitty-gritty. I give the manuscript a final look to make sure every detail and technical glitch has been fixed. Sometimes I miss a typo here and there. You can't help that. You'll never get every single hair in place. I think that's okay.

So, what do you think? Amusing? Enlightening? Am I stretching the analogy a bit too far?